Thursday, February 5, 2009

Reinventing a 100-year-old management model.

“Sometime over the next decade,” warns renowned business guru Gary Hamel in his book, The Future of Management, “your company will be challenged to change in a way for which it has no precedent.” What’s even more worrisome, he argues, is that decades of orthodox management decision-making practices, organization designs, and approaches to employee relations provide no real hope that companies will be able to avoid faltering and/or suffering through painful restructurings.

Lowell Bryan and Claudia Joyce, in their book, Mobilizing Minds, arrive at a similar conclusion from a slightly different perspective. They show that the 20th-century model of designing and managing companies by emphasizing hierarchy and centralized control, not only gets in the way of collaboration and wealth creation by talented employees but also generates unnecessary complexity that works at cross-purposes to those critical goals. Forward-looking executives will respond to these challenges, these authors conclude, by bringing the same energy to developing innovative management that they now bring to creating innovative products and services.

The opportunity is huge - and urgent. Against the backdrop of dramatic technological change, ongoing globalization, and the declining predictability of strategic-planning models, only new approaches to managing and organizing talent will provide companies with a sustainable competitive advantage. The challenge: as companies discard decades of management orthodoxy, they'll have to balance revolutionary thinking with practical experimentation to "feel their way" to new, innovative management models.

For over 30 years I’ve helped primarily large companies innovate. And despite a lot of successes along the way, I’ve often felt as though I was trying to teach a dog to walk on his hind legs. Certainly, if you get the right people together, create the right incentives, and eliminate erroneous past practices, you can spur a lot of innovation. But the moment you turn your back, the dog is on all fours again because it has four-legged DNA, not two-legged DNA.

So over the years, it’s become increasingly clear to me that most organizations don't have innovation DNA and they don’t have adaptability DNA. This realization led me to ask: what problem was management initially invented to solve? Reading the early pioneers like Frederick W. Taylor, I realized that management was designed to solve a very specific problem — how to do things that could be perfectly replicated, on an ever-increasing scale and at steadily increasing efficiency.

However, perfect replication isn't particularly desirable or useful in a constantly changing, fast-moving world. Instead, management now faces a new set of challenges:
- How to build organizations that are as nimble as change itself.
- How to mobilize and monetize the imagination of every employee, every day.
- How to create organizations that are highly engaging places to work in.

I believe these challenges simply can’t be met without reinventing our traditional management model. And that's why I want to share some experiences and ideas about innovative management, starting next week.

But first, we'll have a poem tomorrow.

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